Moving to a new area is a challenge, as any city-bred person from the US East Coast could tell you after his first winter in Wyoming. And the job market is not exactly as promising, either, at least for office workers. Yet, many make the move, and come to regret having waited so long before having done so. An even more difficult move is to go from the country of your birth and to explore a new life somewhere else. Many of our ancestors did this, however, and under far more difficult circumstances than you would face today. Just think of the “coffin ships” that the Irish came to North America on.
Before considering this big step, you should ask yourself what you are trying to achieve and what types of disasters you are hoping to survive. Is it a local disaster, such as flooding, or the disaster of your country going down the drain? You can prepare for almost all natural disasters without the need to move. However, if you are worried about something along the lines of serious civic unrest or even a civil war, then you may want to consider a more dramatic move. For example, if you had been living in the Soviet Union when it came crashing down, but had had German ancestry, you could have moved to Germany. Would you have done so?
Once you have decided to pursue the possibility of moving, you should consider the fact that serious trade-offs will be required, as there is no perfect place in this world. You will have to weigh and balance many new issues in a way that you don’t now. For example, some countries often have low crime, but may seem a bit regimented, such as Singapore. Other countries may be relatively free, but lacking in modern infrastructure.
1. Review all the issues that would apply if you moved within your country. They still apply – only more so. If you can’t handle the snow in Idaho, you won’t do much better in Switzerland. If you can’t afford a house plus a retreat in the Western US, then you probably won’t be able to pull it off in Costa Rica, either. Yes, it’s true that prices are lower in less-developed countries, but the days of the dollar being as good as gold are long gone.
2. Make a list of needs, wants, and can’t haves for everyone in the family. Without their buy-in, you’ve got a problem. You need a reasonable balance for them in their new home, too. You may happy to find a paradise that has both good tax and gun laws, but your children may not care about that, and they’re unhappy about going to a school that teaches in a foreign language.
You should set your priorities of what you can live with, and live without. Do you need TV programs from your home country? You realize, of course, that those might not continue anyway if things get really bad. Do you need first-class hospitals, such as the Mayo Clinic? What is your definition of good medicine? Some folks think the US has a great system, while others disagree. It’s clearly the case that some of the less-developed countries have modernized quite a bit in the last 20 years, and that could make a move to, say, Mexico a lot safer in this regard now than then. Indeed, medical tourism is a fast-growing business due to the low costs in places such as Costa Rica or India. Are you willing to experiment a bit? I have had good results with Chinese herbal shops in Asia, but you may feel that is too risky.
A possible list of must “haves” is:
-Taxes are no worse than where I am now.
-A hospital where at least some of the doctors speak English is within close range.
-Some form of self-defense is legal.
-Phone and Internet service is available.
-Violent crime is uncommon.
-Many schools teach in English.
-The type of business I want is legal for an immigrant to operate.
-Good agricultural land is available and not too expensive.
A possible list of “wants” is:
-Phone and Internet service is inexpensive.
-The government is pro-American.
-The currency is stable.
-A wide variety of churches and religious materials is available.
-Properties with gravity-fed water supply are available.
-Acquiring a second citizenship is not too difficult.
-The country is considered to be a tax haven and has laws that guarantee financial privacy.
-US-style fast food and supermarkets are available.
-Cyclones are rare.
A possible list of “can’t haves” is:
-Religious oppression is common.
-There is widespread hostility towards home schooling.
-A high probability of civil unrest exists, such as Pakistan.
-The country’s language would take many years to learn, such as Chinese.
-The country has high anti-American sentiment or very poor political relations with the US, such as Venezuela.
-The pollution is unbearable.
Then you need to do some long soul-searching about your lists, as we all have a tendency to overestimate our strengths and underestimate our weaknesses. You may think that learning Phasa Thai will only take a year or so, but most Westerners living in Thailand would say that’s highly unlikely.
As you can imagine, one man’s must have is another man’s can’t have. You may want something that doesn’t exist in a country, but that product might be available on the Internet – for now. Not if things get rough, though. As most of the world eats a lot of rice or beans, you might have to change your diet. Can you do without pancakes and maple syrup? Can you give up venison in exchange for fruit bat?
3. Consider the possible differences due to geography, history, or the thinking of people in the culture.
German-speaking Switzerland and parts of Germany may seem very similar, but their mindsets are not. The historical experiences of Switzerland have led the public to have a jaded view of government, and big neighbors with big armies. Even if gun rights or financial privacy are limited in Switzerland, it will be a lot better than in Germany.
Chile and Brazil illustrate a similar situation. In Chile, the government is relatively effective and not particularly corrupt. In Brazil, government is, shall we say, a bit different, and authorities in Rio de Janeiro have often ignored the laws from Brasilia.
4. You simply must visit a country for some length of time before considering a permanent move. Can you handle the cleanliness standards there? Are you starting to pick up the language after a few weeks? Are your kids fascinated, or disgusted? And make the effort to stay in a representative location, so no Hilton hotels. Consider a home stay for studying the language.
A visit will let you discover things that travel guidebooks won’t say. For example, I know a woman who was the wife of an American diplomat. In one South American country, this couple had to worry about their child with blond hair and blue eyes being kidnapped, and this child’s memories of life there are very different from her sibling, who has a darker complexion.
5. Be honest about your financial and work situation-for both you and your spouse. If you need good luck in your business to make it past three years at a location, you probably shouldn’t go. Also, do not be surprised if it costs you twice as much as you expect or takes twice as long as it should.
6. Be honest about your family’s desire to move. A big cause of failure is family strife about being in another culture.
7. Study the country and region you are considering moving to. Has it changed since you visited 20 years ago? Many readers of this blog would like Australia as it was 30 years ago, but would you like it today? Are different technologies practical or required? A tropical island may not have much of a power grid, and you may want to consider cyclones when building anything. For that matter, if you are from a country with a large population, it can be hard to keep in mind the idea that the capital of a tropical country may only have 50,000 people.
Open your eyes to the fact that a lot of possibilities are not really discussed in the mass media, or that the way things are presented gives a misleading impression of how the people in a country actually live. 80% of the Japanese population lives in the big, urban centers – so there are a lot of empty spaces (and houses) that are quite cheap. If you are single and contemplating New Zealand as a location, you may want to look into house sitting or working on a farm. If I were young, I would seriously consider a working holiday visa there to check it out. A friend moved to Israel after the dotcom bubble burst, and has enjoyed it immensely, and done quite well in the Information Technology business.
An under-appreciated topic is the reality of laws on the ground versus theoretical laws. In many cultures, theoretical laws from the capital are not the way you would actually have to live. This is especially relevant with regards to visas, weapons, and building codes. [JWR Adds: The Philippines come immediately to mind, on that point.] This most definitely doesn’t mean you should buy a passport in another name with a bribe, but it’s just a fact of life that many countries have the perspective that governments are corrupt and lousy, so you have to do what you have to do. In any case, you simply should not rely on a government’s web site for any important decision without verifying what they say with locals, preferably ones who aren’t trying to sell you something. And the same applies with many law firms who just parrot the government’s story, too.
8 – Make a list of how your choices would fare with different scenarios. For example, how do you think your home in rural Texas would do if the US or the whole world had a 1930s style depression? How about a dollar collapse or horrible inflation? Or a repressive national government? Now, how would you fare if you lived in Vanuatu if similar things occurred? And don’t think that an article you read about a nearby country is really all that relevant. New Caledonia could have major strife if the world economy got really bad or France has continuing unrest, as the relations between the French settlers and the locals are not very good in the best of times, while Vanuatu might be perfectly fine. As a general rule, urban areas have dramatically more problems now and will have even more potential problems if the balloon goes up, as a lot of rural areas around the world are largely self-sufficient, and do not contain large numbers of disaffected immigrants from poorer areas.
9. If you do decide to make a move, don’t rush things. You may want to build up your skill sets first, language being an obvious one. Also, certain skills might be required to get a visa. For example, New Zealand offers a lot of bonus points in their immigration system for immigrants with qualifications in desired fields. A credential might mean the difference between getting in, or not.
10. Expect the move to be a lot of work. Much more than if you moved to a rural area in your home country. Just the visas alone can be a major headache in some countries.
11 . Be willing to not do it. You always have the alternatives of getting more prepared where you are or moving to a better location in your home country. You can also improve your skills or bank account.
12. Have a backup plan, and perhaps a secondary backup plan if your first backup plan goes bad. If a family member becomes terminally ill back home, what will you do?
For resources, I recommend EscapeArtist.com. It has a large collection of articles written by immigrants living in different countries. It is not oriented towards survival topics, but it some writers discuss self-sufficiency, as that’s one of the aspects of adjusting to life in a less-developed country. And, of course, your starting position should be to review everything written at the Rawles Ranch. You can also gather information regarding countries at the CIA’s World Factbook.